Producers rarely get much credit, unless they’re bigger-than-life personalities who throw phones, abuse women, or otherwise undistinguish themselves. Ever since Andrew Sarris, the influential movie reviewer for the old Village Voice, imported and elaborated on the “auteur theory” that lionized directors, producers who just produce have been largely ignored. There is no auteur theory for them, nor for writers for that matter. But without producers there would have been dramatically fewer “auteurs,” especially during the 1970s when the studios were aerated by a fresh breeze called the New Hollywood.
Jerry Hellman was one such producer, arguably the best, and he neatly bookended that era, producing Midnight Cowboy near the beginning, for which he won a best-picture Oscar in 1970, and Coming Home near the end, in 1978. He had a keen eye for the new and different, as well as the boldness and skill to make his way through an industry in turmoil, talking the money into making movies it didn’t want to make.